Thursday, September 7, 2023

Q&A with Caroline Arnold



Caroline Arnold is the author of the children's picture book My Friend from Outer Space, now available in a new graphic novel version. Her many other books include Planting a Garden in Room Six.


Q: Your book My Friend from Outer Space was initially published in 1981. How did this new graphic novel version of the book come about?


A: My Friend from Outer Space, an easy-read story about two little girls on an imaginary space trip, is a book reborn. I got the idea for the original story by listening to my own children and their friends play games in which they pretended to be aliens. The trick, of course, was providing proof, and in my story I decided that the two girls would take a trip to outer space in a cardboard box spaceship.


After the book went out of print I hoped to have it republished, but had no luck. As time went by the illustrations began to look old-fashioned. It needed new art. Then I realized that my granddaughter Paige’s anime art style was perfect for the story. For the last two years we have worked together to create the new version.


Q: What are the main similarities and differences between the two versions?


A: The text in the new version is shorter—most of the narration is eliminated and the conversation is in speech bubbles. And the new version is told in the present tense, making the story feel more immediate. But the story is essentially the same.


The main difference between the two versions is in the illustrations. Like most children’s books published in 1981, the illustrations in the first version of My Friend from Outer Space are in limited color, made with a separate drawing for each color. The new version of the book is in full color, created by Paige on her iPad.

Q: What do you think Paige’s illustrations add to the story?


A: Paige’s lively characters and the graphic novel layout give the book a contemporary comic book look, perfect for today’s children. Details in the art can be “read” by the audience and add important information to the story. And Paige’s depiction of Sherry in her outer space costume is sure to delight children.


Q: What do you hope kids take away from the book?


A: When My Friend from Outer Space was first published, it was by far my most popular book. I read it aloud to auditoriums full of children at my school visits, and by the time I got to the third page, you could hear a pin drop in the room as the children listened eagerly to find out what happened next. 


While most of them understood that the trip was pretend, there were always a few who wanted to believe that the girls really did go to outer space. Then when I asked who liked to pretend, all hands went up. I made the point that pretending is a good way to get an idea for a story. This is a story about the power of imagination. It is also a story of friendship.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Among my current projects is a picture book biography about Lizzie Black Kander, editor of the best-selling Settlement Cook Book (first edition 1902), that grew out of her work at a community center in Milwaukee called The Settlement. I learned to cook using my mother’s copy of the book—the 25th edition!


Q: Anything else we should know?

A: It is rare for an author and illustrator to work together on a children’s picture book. Collaborating with Paige was a special opportunity to spend time together and to combine our talents.


After 42 years, My Friend from Outer Space is available again, both as an e-book and a 32-page paperback. Paige and I are thrilled. Publishing a book never seems quite real until you can hold it in your hand and turn the pages. Paige is proud to be a published illustrator. She is now off to college.


I am so glad to see the book in print again. I look forward to sharing it with children at my upcoming author visits at schools and libraries.


Thank you, Deborah, for the opportunity to share this new book with your readers and a new generation of children!


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Caroline Arnold.

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